The New Jersey Devils headed into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Los Angeles Kings with one goal in mind: to win. They needed to win to get back into this series. They needed to win to do what Vancouver, St. Louis, and Phoenix could not do in the prior three rounds. They needed to win to have a legitimate chance of a comeback as the last team to win the Cup after going down three games in the series were the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. They needed to win Game 3 by any means necessary.
Tonight, the Devils lost 4-0 to the Kings.
The first period went well enough. The Devils and Kings played hard, shots eventually came, with the Devils enjoying the better of possession. The Devils got a great opportunity late in the period. Mike Richards elbowed Zach Parise after a positive forecheck that led to a power play. On that power play, Adam Henrique collected a puck from a rebound off an Ilya Kovalchuk shot and got clipped in the face by Jeff Carter. It wasn't just a penalty, but a double-minor. A 5-on-3 for about a minute followed by extended time. It was a glorious time for the Devils to convert.
They didn't. The two man advantage had good possession but only attempt got on net and Jonathan Quick denied a re-direction by Parise in front. Not long that ended, the puck got bouncy, Marek Zidlicky mishandled it up top, and before Richards could take it for a shorthanded breakaway, Zidlicky had to foul him. The power play got cut off for two minutes and the Devils didn't do much other than one shot on the remaining power play time on Carter's penalty. The Kings escaped and the period ended 0-0. Ordinarily, not a big deal. However, that would be the last time the power play would do anything tonight.
In the second period, the Kings took the game. The Devils started off OK, but under six minutes, there would be a goal. And what a goal it was. Alec Martinez jammed at a puck that was underneath Martin Brodeur's pad. It could not be seen by anyone, much less the ref by the play - yet there was no whistle. The third whack got it loose and in. It was a garbage non-whistle then; but now I can't get too mad since the Devils wouldn't answer it at all. The Devils got power plays - possibly as a make-up? - and proceeded to do nothing with them. No shots on net. Few attempts. Just five guys in white jerseys unable to win pucks, make passes, or even keep their heads up. The Kings have an excellent penalty kill, but the Devils made it so easy for them to get kills. The Kings dug a deeper hole for the Devils with a 3-on-2 rush. Anze Kopitar torched a back-checking Zach Parise and drilled Dustin Brown's pass past Brodeur with a one-timer. It was 2-0 and the Devils responded with not much - something confirmed when they did nothing with their sixth power play of the evening.
The wheels on the bus just fell off in the third. Score effects had the Devils' Fenwick and Corsi soar, but they didn't matter much tonight. Jonathan Quick was seemingly everywhere when the shots actually were on target. The Devils attempted 60 shots and only 22 were on net. Yes, many of the shots on Quick were low. Those that were aimed high often went high and/or wide; that comprised most of the 21 misses. The Kings would get two power plays. The first came from a Mark Fayne cross-check. That ended when Dainius Zubrus couldn't get a clear, the puck got down low to Richards, and he tossed it to Carter for a one-timer at close range that went in. The second came from Marek Zidlicky high-sticking Brown. That ended with Justin Williams darting around Fayne, taking a shot, and putting in his own rebound. Yes, the team that had a 9% power play success rate in the postseason went 2-for-2 tonight. It wasn't necessary as Quick earned the shutout, but they'll celebrate it all the same along with their win.
And that's what happened tonight. How and why? I'll have my thoughts on that after the jump, but does it matter? The Kings decisively won 4-0. They are now up 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals. Teams that go up 3-0 in a series are near-automatic locks to win in the NHL playoffs, regardless of the round. I'd love to sit here and tell you the Devils have a chance, but if we're being honest with ourselves here, we should be happy if they just win one game in this series. Tonight, the effort was there to start the game, but it just fell apart for the Devils. The power play opportunities went from OK to horrendous - like 2003 Devils horrendous - within less than a period. The Devils were shooting but they were often not on net, so there were further lost opportunities. The hustle died out as the Kings' increased their lead. The big names didn't show up, the smaller names didn't bail them out, and I feel like I want to give Martin Brodeur a sympathy card for what happened. Or, more appropriately, that a fourth Stanley Cup isn't happening.
Should you want to celebrate the Kings' well-deserved victory, then please visit Jewels from the Crown. I'm going to attempt to give some more thoughts about this game after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Game Highlights: There are highlights of this game at NHL.com and they're pretty much all L.A. As they should be since they won 4-0:
Credit Where Credit is Due: I'd like to pre-congratulate the Los Angeles Kings. They've been a buzzsaw in these playoffs and tonight, they further showed that they are simply a high quality team. Quick was seemingly everywhere tonight. The defense allowed a lot of attempts but only a fraction got on target; holding the Devils to 22 was quite a feat. Their penalty kill has been the best in the playoffs and they had a brilliant performance tonight. The only thing they didn't do was score a shorthanded goal. Their atrocious power play was perfect tonight with four shots with two goals on two opportunities. And they weren't cheap ones, no, they were powerful goals - the sort of goals you expect with a team of their talent. While their offense can't be too happy at only 21 shots, the four goals make it a very minor issue - even if the first one should've been blown dead. Justin Williams had an awesome game and Jarret Stoll did a lot of hard work among the bottom six players.
I'm sure a lot is going to be made about their being a #8 seed. Does it matter? The Vancouver, St. Louis, and Phoenix organizations would argue otherwise. Since getting Jeff Carter, I don't think the team has lost more than seven games in regulation. Their otherwise atrocious shooting percentage in the reason was unsustainable (think 2010-11 Devils atrocious) and it's been hot in this postseason almost to correct itself. Sure, they lost the possession battle badly tonight, but that's largely due to score effect - all of their scores. Quick has been fantastic, their defense has made given the Devils real problems at times tonight, and their forwards were able to get rushes in their favor. They're 15-2 in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they're incredibly likely to lift Lord Stanley's Cup, and they earned it all, including this win tonight. It was a statement game for anyone who apparently hasn't figured it out by now.
We cannot be happy with what's happening to the Devils, but these aren't a bunch of scrubs doing it to them. If nothing else, that was made very clear tonight.
Banging My Head Against A Wall: Before this series began, I had a feeling special teams could make a big difference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Well, they certainly did. I didn't expect the Kings going 2-for-2 in a single game. I certainly didn't expect the Devils to go 0-for-12 on the power play in the first three games and tonight's 0-for-6 performance was simply pathetic. If Game 2's power plays were embarrassing, then we need a new word for tonight's power plays. Let me hit the low lights with short exclamations:
Three shots in 9:01 of power play time tonight! All three were in the first period! No shots in six minutes of power play time in the second period! A 5-on-3 with one attempt out of five getting to Quick! A clear make-up call for the Martinez goal completely and utterly wasted! Peter DeBoer called a timeout, did all the talking before one of these, and the team responded with absolutely nothing! Why is Adam Oates not walking back to New Jersey right now!
Tonight, we had the pleasure of seeing the Devils unable to carry the puck into the zone on several occasions, unable to dump it in and win a puck along the boards, unable to maintain the puck at the point, unable to make passes in the middle of the zone, and unable to find the net when the rare shooting attempt happened. Ilya Kovalchuk wasn't good at the point and Marek Zidlicky managed to be even worse - almost to the point of useless. Peter Harrold was a non-factor. Dainius Zubrus uncharacteristically got owned along the boards. Patrik Elias laid off pucks for Kings players. Zach Parise got one re-direction on the 5-on-3 and that was it from him on power plays. I'm not even sure Travis Zajac and David Clarkson were out there. Alexei Ponikarovsky once looked up with the puck and passed it right to a King. One could not say "Get Kovalchuk off the point" or "get the puck down low more to Parise" and think that would have solved it; the Devils units were horribly out of sync with and without the puck. The only positive I can say about the Devils' special teams was that they didn't allow a shorthanded goal. Everything else was excremental.
Oh, and of course the Kings tore up the Devils' PK. Here are some player-specific tips for what happened prior to the goals. Zubrus: When you are going for a clearance, don't try to sneak it by Willie Mitchell and the boards. You have space - use it. Elias: You can't do anything to Carter if you're on the wrong side of his body. Fayne: Don't bite on fakes so much.
Given the circumstances and how it all went down, I'd have to say the Devils' special teams had one of their worst performances of the 2011-12 campaign. And they had to have made the impact that it did.
Did You Know Kovalchuk Is Hurt? I Don't Think Anyone Has Brought it Up: In the Florida series, more and more fans noted that Kovalchuk may be hurt. After Game 1 against Philly, it was revealed that he was. So why in the world am I hearing fans bring this up over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over now that it's Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals? Yes, he's hurt. We know.
Kovalchuk did not have a good game tonight. He was one of two players to lead the team in attempts with seven (the other was Volchenkov), but only two got on net. He had two of the Devils' three power play shots on net -and that was it from him. All in the first period. Again, he did not have a good game and since he is the team's top playoff scorer, the team's leading scorer from the regular season, and because he's got a contract, he deserves heat for his lack of production and performance. I get that. Can we dispense the notion that it's because he's hurt because he's been productive and had better performances while he's been hurt? What's wrong with saying he had a bad game like we should be saying of Zajac or Elias tonight? Kovalchuk had a bad game. The guys around him, especially on the power play units, also had bad games. People have them, injured or otherwise. That wasn't hard.
Pending UFA Zach Parise: I will say this in favor of Parise. He led the team in shots on net with four. He had one in each period plus a power play shot on net in the first. OK, Quick stopped them without much issue; only the power play shot was really difficult. That said, I'm not really happy with his performance either. Where was the leadership from Parise? The power play has been weaker than a snail and you're part of the problem instead of finding solutions. At evens, Parise drifted in and out at times - and no, playing with Kovalchuk isn't the reason since the two have played well over 60 games together in this season. Parise's big moment was getting torched by Kopitar for the game's second goal. One game or one series isn't going to define a player or his next contract; but it sure would be great if he could step up like many of the fans ask of Kovalchuk. Parise gets a pass from a lot of fans for what I'm sure are some fantastic reasons. It still must be said, he's got nothing in this series too. That the team played worse as time went on I don't think speaks well to whatever he's telling his teammates.
Other Forwards Who Otherwise Would Get More Words About Their Bad Night: It's late so I'm going run through them quickly.
Zajac - His one shot on net led to a strong stop by Quick on a rebound. It would have been cool if he tried to get more pucks and put them on net or something. He did little with Kovalchuk and Parise for most of the game and continued to do little with Zubrus and Elias in the third period. For a guy who was doing so, so well in this postseason, he's been a non-factor on offense. At least he was above 50% for draws.
Clarkson - Clarkson and Ponikarovsky actually got a two-on-one and Clarkson actually got below the dots and shot it! Progress! It was also his lone shot of the night. Not progress! Strangely, he picked up a +18 in Corsi, which is rather impressive that he was on the ice for so many attempts and contributed only one on net. How did it get so high? Score effects. I wouldn't be happy about a +18 Corsi tonight.
Elias - Elias was relatively good in Game 1 and very good in Game 2. Tonight, he was anything but. A lot of his decisions just went awry, be it laying pucks off, attempting cross-ice passes to covered guys, or even handling the puck. On a night where Parise and Kovalchuk faltered, he needed to be the straw stirring the drink. Tonight, his play wouldn't have even found the glass except for that one shot attempt.
Adam Henrique & Jacob Josefson - They got wheels and going not much anywhere. They were also getting beaten on at the dot as the two won fewer than 40% of their draws.
Zubrus - I know the cycling was inconsistent and the other guys didn't do much. However, Big Z was neutralized plenty of times along the boards. Like Parise and Elias, he just drifted in and out of the game. You'd think a man as large as he would have trouble with that, but he did.
The Scratched: You know what, I wouldn't mind seeing Larsson, Sykora, and/or even Henrik Tallinder in Game 4. It doesn't matter at this point, really.
Whiff, Whiff, Whiff: I like Fayne a lot, but this was simply not his night. He gets to be on the wrong end on highlight reels on the Williams goal; three of his four attempts missed the net; and he whiffed on more than one occasion with the puck. Woof.
The Regression of Zidlicky Continues: I can defend the foul on Richards as it prevented him from getting one-on-one with Brodeur in the first period. It sucks that it undercut half of Carter's double-minor, but I'll take that over handing Mike Richards a chance to break a 0-0 game on a shorthanded breakaway. I can't defend botched passes, losing coverage, racking up a -3 in Corsi when the Devils got to +20 with crazy score effects, not even attempting one shot on net (and with all that power play time!), and jamming Brown in the face while his stick his held. The Zidlicky who was doing everything right in the first two rounds is but a memory.
The Return of Gagne: Simon Gagne played his first game of hockey in 2012 after being out with a concussion for over five months. He played 6:36, took a minor for slashing Fayne's stick out of his hands, and put up three shots on net. Yes, three. Gagne got more shots on net than any single Devil not named Parise while playing less than anyone else on the ice. Clearly, Kings fans should be happy with his performance.
How Come So Few References to Corsi/Fenwick: Score effects and the lack of goals sort of make it not mean much tonight, so I eased up on it bunch. The Devils were around +6 Corsi and +5 Fenwick at the end of the second period and the game ended at +20 Corsi and +15 Fenwick. That does not mean the Devils were really superior at evens. While positive throughout the night, it's easy to rack up attempts when losing by two or more goals. More importantly, most of those attempts weren't on net. The Devils only out-shot the Kings 19-16 at evens despite the large gap in both Corsi and Fenwick values. Possession means a lot, but it's not going to tell us much that was good given that the Devils led 20-8 in misses or 15-10 in blocked shots tonight.
Feels Bad, Bro(deur): The Martinez goal should have never happened; I still don't understand how the ref can believe the puck was loose or visible. Even so, Brodeur got literally zero goal support. He had no chance on Kopitar's one-timer, not much of one on Carter's one-timer, and anytime a player collects his own rebound while striding to the net like Williams did usually spells doom for the goalie. Brodeur has otherwise done a lot for the Devils to get to this point of the postseason. Tonight, his numbers got wrecked and I know full well someone in the future will point to this game and say "4 goals allowed on 21 shots? So terrible it's not even slightly above average!" Brodeur was not at all the reason why tonight or even this series went down the way it did and that's all I have to really say about that.
Standing at the Precipice, Staring into the Abyss: Now the Devils down 3-0 in the series after a crushing 4-0 loss. The effort started off good, but the performance ended up being second rate. It as this point people react in various ways. There's anger, which is understandable given how Game 3 went and now that sweep is plausible. There's disappointment, given how the Devils' effort degraded as time went on in a must-win game. There's frustration, seeing the Devils having good shifts, good pressure, and yet again getting nothing for it while the other team marches down the ice and gets a couple. There's a lot of negative feelings among the Devils fans around the world and I understand and sympathize with all of it. I get it. I really do.
Me? I'm tired and I'm just in a state of resignation. I'm not happy at all that the Devils may not get one single win. I really would like them to at least avoid a sweep (their first in franchise history, apparently) with a consolation win. I want to at least go to Newark for one more hockey game before a summer of CBA uncertainty. I want to see the Devils live one more time and tell them thank you regardless of what may happen before a whole lot changes after July 1. However, I understand that the probability of a comeback is super-duper low; a 4-0 loss in Game 3 hammers home that point really well. Yet, there's a lot to be proud about getting here at all. They survived a tricky first round series against Florida, they stomped on the second-most hated rivals (who are mostly on the Kings bandwagon so they can falsely claim some glory for a team they otherwise wouldn't support), and then they turned 2012 into a talking point against Our Hated Rivals for years to come. They ran into a super-hot team that has real talent that was obscured in the regular season by a really cruddy shooting percentage and started shining when they dumped a black hole (Jack Johnson) for a star (Carter). Right now, I just want one win. And after a game like this, I don't even know if I can be that hopeful of that.
Believe me, I want to be the optimist that says nothing is over until we say it is and that it wasn't over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor. I really do. But I honestly can't. And so I'm resigned with respect to this Stanley Cup run ending sooner than you or I wanted. I asked why not and now, I see why not staring back at me from the proverbial abyss.
That's my take on tonight's game. I want to know your opinion on what happened. Tell me what you would want to see on the power play. Tell me what you would do for Game 4. Tell me how you felt as this game happened. Tell me what you're feeling now. Just be excellent to each other as you give your thoughts in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.